Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Evening Note for Wednesday, February 10

Thought for the Evening: A Jacob's Ladder of Triads

Let us begin with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father is the principle of the Son and the Spirit; the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This is a perfect procession: no separation, no division, no loss. Principle and proceeding are one God, and the procession has neither beginning nor ending nor spatiotemporal measure.

Each of the Persons of the Trinity is God, so what we attribute to divine nature, we attribute to all three. But our attributions are imperfect for designating God, so we use many such attributions. Some of these attributions fall naturally into patterns of three, and are easily understood in a way reminiscent of the Trinity itself. An obvious one is that of divine being, divine intellect, and divine will. Conceptually, being is prior to intellect, and both being and intellect are prior to will; that is, will is intellectual desire and both will and intellect conceptually presuppose being. In God, there can be no real priority; God is simple. Thus in God, being, intellect, and will are just describing one thing, namely, God Himself. But we better see how they can be describing one thing by considering their conceptual dependencies. This is the foundation of the theological principle of appropriation: divine attributes apply to all the Persons, but certain attributes are 'appropriated', treatable as if they were proper to, certain Persons. Thus being is appropriated to the Father, intellect to the Son, and will to the Spirit. What is more, the Trinity itself explains why these three attributes (or other similar triadic attributes) work especially well together for the purpose of talking about God; they have a conceptual relationship that is a sort of loose image of the more fundamental processions of the Persons of the Trinity.

We can, however, not only consider the divine nature in itself, but also the divine nature in light of the fact that God is Creator. And in so doing we find that each of the three attributes, being, intellect, and will, can be understood in that light, and that they still have the triadic structure, although the relation to creatures adds further complication. We can attribute to God as Creator divine essence, in the sense of the divine being insofar as creatures can be said in some way to imitate it by simply being; and divine ideas, insofar as creatures can imitate God as effects imitate their cause in a way like the products of the artisan imitate the artisan's ideas, so, in other words, insofar as creatures can be said in some way to imitate God by being what they are; and divine energies, or operations, if we prefer the Latin, insofar as creatures are related to God as effects. Because of all the references to creatures, this is more loosely related to the Trinitarian processions, and we see as well that while ideas and energies conceptually diversify, essence does not; but obviously we can relate essence to being, ideas to intellect, and energies to will. And being, intellect, and will being attributable to God,, when we recognize that God is Creator, explains why we can attribute essence, idea, and energy to God.

But when speaking of God as Creator, we can look at the relation between Creator and creature from the creature side. In particular, we can regard creatures insofar as they receiving being from God in the work of creation. And we can think of this in three ways. Creatures receive from God that they are; this reception we can call their emanation from God, or their production by God, or just creation. Creatures receive from God what they are; that is to say, God is the superabundant exemplar whose goodness and excellence creatures in various ways imitate by being what they are. This is exemplarity. But creatures do not have perfection or completeness necessarily and in themselves; their imitation is completed by their own actions and operations, which when done properly result in their most completely expressing the divine excellence from which they come. This is return to God. The whole of creation and every part exhibits these features: emanation, exemplarity, and return. And again, exemplarity and return  both come from emanation, and the return of creatures to God comes from emanation through the exemplarity that makes them what they are -- that is to say, the kind of return depends on the kind of thing the creature is as exemplate of the divine exemplar. Nor is this surprising, since each of these is the creature considered insofar as it is related to the divine essence, to the divine ideas, or to the divine energies. However, as this triad is found in imperfect, mutable, composite, occasionally errant beings, the processions or relations among them are less perfect than when we are speaking of God, and the triad is less unified.

We can go a step further, however, and speak of creatures insofar as they act on each other in being mutable, composite, etc. And we find that they here imitate the general pattern of creation. There is a source of change or composition, etc., which we call the efficient cause. There is a kind of thing that changing or composite things get in being caused by the efficient cause, which we call the formal cause. And there is something to which the action of the efficient cause and the formal cause tend, which specifies them as what they are, and this we call the final cause. These are clearly related to the attributes of creation, because when we trace these back, we eventually get to those attributes. That is, we can trace back efficient causes causing efficient causes to cause and we get to emanation, which we could think of as God in creation being first efficient cause. The formal cause is a bit more complicated, because formal causes are properly intrinsic, but forms can imitate other forms, and we can trace back these forms to the exemplarity of creation itself, and God as first exemplar cause. And we can trace final causes forward to the ultimate final cause, which is God as that to which creation returns. But this is all the work of creatures acting on other creatures as materials for change, composition, etc., sometimes in chancey rather than regular ways, and thus the triadic relationships are looser and more defective than the higher triads.

We could take this very Bonaventuran notion of descending triads and ascend instead; starting with creaturely causes we can just rise to the Creator and, by faith, to the Trinity, each triad in the ascent being more unified and more consistently related, and related more purely in and of itself, than the triad below. Each triad above in some sense explains the triad below by a kind of conceptual symmetry-breaking; each level down is the introduction of something that disrupts, as it were, the triad above. So likewise, ascending is returning to a higher perfection of unity and procession, a context within which the features of the triad below can be more clearly seen. The big divide and biggest disruption, of course, is between essence/ideas/energies and emanation/exemplarity/return, when we stop talking about God insofar as creatures are from Him and start talking about creatures insofar as they are from God.

Nothing, of course, requires that this is the only Jacob's Ladder of triads linking Trinity and creaturely things, although all the triads here are quite general.


Various Links of Interest

* Henry Hopwood-Philips, Rise and Fall of the West

* Boudry, Vlerick, and Edis, Demystifying mysteries: How metaphors and analogies extend the reach of the human mind (PDF)

* Noah Smith interviews Liam Kofi Bright

* Courtney Rubin, The Shocking Meltdown of Ample Hills -- Brooklyn's Hottest Ice Cream Company

* A society, not a monolith: What the Catholic Church is, and is not

* Freddie Sayers looks into the irrational absurdities of the 'Zero Covid' campaign

* Joshua P. Hochschild, Piety without Metaphysics: The Moral Pedagogy of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (PDF)

* The Hungarian Philosophical Review 2020/4 issue has become available. I particularly recommend Gyula Klima's article, "Words and What Is Beyond Words".


Currently Reading

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla
Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker

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